Whether you’re working from home, running to work, or just itching to get outside and beat pandemic blues with exercise endorphins, lockdown is a brilliant time to be a runner.
Basic tracksuit trousers will only take you so far: from pockets to panels, compression to drawstring cords, technical leggings can transform your training. Leggings make you streamlined, so faster, and offer support in all the right places – particularly important if you’ve recently moved from a treadmill to the pavement.
We tested these leggings on a variety of urban runs: short end-of-the day plods, race pace runs, sprint training sessions, and longer distance (half marathon). Lockdown prevented us from taking them to the hills, so our reviewers went off-piste in local parks to get a sense of how they might handle trail running. Blessed with wintery weather throughout testing, these leggings have all been trialled in cold wind, rain and hail.
Running leggings – particularly for performance – can feel barely-there, so we used a mirror to put them all (except the merino leggings, a base layer) to the infamous “squat test” to make sure they didn’t become transparent when flexed. They all passed with flying colours, so you can warm down with confidence.
We looked for leggings that covered all the basics – at least one pocket in most cases, good support, quick drying fabric – and added a touch of flair. We looked particularly for a good variety of eco-friendly fabrics, like bamboo, because technical wear can be environmentally costly, and needs frequent washing.
The leggings below cover a range of running styles, from comfortable yoga-style pants you’ll use everywhere to serious running specific tights you can depend on for race day. We also included one pair of compression tights: compression wear is divisive, with some runners finding its tight fit supports and drives their performance, and others finding it uncomfortably restrictive.
Whatever stage you’re at, these are the best running leggings to take your training to the next level.
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Sweaty Betty power reflective gym leggings
We’d wear these leggings everywhere – they are that spectacular. The fit and fabric thickness is perfect: warm but breathable, supportive but not constrictive, with a good size hip pocket for your phone on one side and a small, zipped key pocket. But that’s just the beginning: they’re covered in a 360-reflective pattern that looks like fishnet, or glossy scales, and it is breathtaking when it catches the light, completely illuminating you under streetlights or in car lights. They aren’t cheap, but they are a real investment in your safety if you ever run after dusk, and come with detailed instructions to help you keep the reflective pattern bright when you wash them.
Bam high waist enduro 7/8 leggings
Long gone are the days when shopping ethically meant settling for drab colours and loose cuts. These gorgeous, silky smooth leggings are so eye-catching our reviewer couldn’t wait for a race to show them off. The bamboo/cotton blend is breathable and adaptable – it felt warm when we set off but cool after our warm-up – and stretches without becoming transparent.
Comfortable enough to lounge in on rest days, the waist is firm and supportive. Best of all, compared to conventional cotton, each pair saves 360.7 days of drinking water and 2.8 m2 of land farmed without pesticides. Be warned, there are no pockets.
Keela women’s merino leggings
These gloriously warm woolen leggings are a base-layer for very cold weather running, so you’ll need to pair them with a lightweight waterproof shell before you hit the road. Our reviewer has a merino activewear addiction, and these were the best leggings she’s found: extremely breathable, with enough stretch to stay in place – from ankle to hip – when running. Lifesavers when it’s cold (sub 5C) or you’re running in snow, they’ll make sure your legs stay warm and dry – ideal for a multi-stage run where you might be making long stops, or for running somewhere conditions might suddenly worsen, like hill or trail running.
Lululemon fast and free HR tight 28in
These leggings tick every box: the internal drawstring keeps the waist snug when you’re running, and the pocket options are the best we found. As well as two generous side pockets – phone sized – the waistband features five small, (non-zipper) pockets for keys, a face mask, and gels if you’re running far. They feel amazingly light, like a second skin, but never become see-through when stretched. Ideal for faster training sessions and intervals as well as longer runs. A classic.
Seasalt sea dance leggings
If you’re used to running in tracksuit trousers and aren’t ready to make the jump to figure-hugging lycra, these breathable, comfortable leggings are the perfect starting point. The thick waistband is supportive but gentle, and the organic cotton material is soft, flexible and breathable. While they aren’t designed for running far or in bad weather, they are ideal for gentle jogs, runners who dabble in yoga, or anyone taking their first tentative steps on a treadmill.
Montane Ineo light pants
A seriously comfortable pair of running trousers at a brilliant price, with the same form-fitting, second-skin feel as some of the highest-end leggings we tried. Two generous hip pockets (non-zipper) sit high enough to feel secure for keys and cash/cards, and the large thigh pocket is ideal for a phone – but a little far away if you run with wired headphones plugged in. The wicking fabric around the waistband and very lower back is a great innovation – these are two uncomfortable build-up points for sweat.
2XU women’s MCS run compression tights
If you’re tempted to try running in compression tights, these technical leggings are a good place to start. Zoned compression around larger muscle groups – calves and quads – gives you the psychological boost of extra support even before you run in them regularly. They feel very tight to begin with – particularly if you haven’t run in compression tights before – but trust the inbuilt flex to guide your stride. Reflective details and a zipped pocket make these good for everyday training.
Seasalt invigorating leggings
A blend of organic cotton and bamboo makes these leggings some of the most comfortable we tried, with an easy stretch but good support around the waist. They felt so breathable we worried about feeling cold at the start of our wintery test run – but the jersey-style texture and the added heft of the organic cotton kept our reviewer perfectly warm. Seasalt has impeccable ethical and green credentials, so these are an absolutely guilt-free treat.
Tide and Seek tropic rave leggings
A really exciting new addition to Tide and Seek’s collection, these silky soft leggings are a masterpiece – particularly when you know they’re made with 100 per cent recycled plastic bottles. The prints are gorgeous, each pair slightly unique, and the material – because it’s designed for surfing and paddleboarding – is breathable and noticeably quick-drying, perfect if you run regularly and need a quick laundry turnaround. The high waistband is supportive around your core without being restrictive. Great for summer running, or just showing off in the gym.
R5 Women Gore-Tex infinium tights
Proper pro-running leggings, these no nonsense technical tights can cope with the very worst conditions: windproof, water-resistant but breathable, they are ideal for winter or trail running. The waistband cord keeps them snug when you’re moving, and the side pocket and zipped back pocket are ideal for safely storing your keys and phone. The fit is tight – there’s a zipper on the lower leg to help peel them on – but incredibly supportive, without the dramatic restriction you get from full compression wear.
The verdict: Women's running leggings
Sweaty Betty’s space age fabric blew us away, ideal for night-time or urban running. Bam’s versatile leggings were our go to for less demanding runs – and, because they’re so comfy, usually stayed on through a few Zoom meetings, too.
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